Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/September 1898/Correspondence

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Editor Popular Science Monthly:

DEAR SIR: In reading over your June magazine this morning I came upon your very able essay on Competition and the Golden Rule. I am very much impressed with its general fairness as well as its penetration, but particularly with the opening paragraph on those advocates of socialism who teach that competition is a negation of the golden rule.

I feel that I ought to admit you are justified in treating all socialists as if they were enemies of competition; and I grow quite disgruntled myself with those of my fellow-advocates who are continually denouncing competition in the way you have described. I am quite willing to confess that if any further arguments were needed in defense of competition, your article supplies them; and that true competition—i. e., between the individual faculties and energies of individuals—is an element of life itself, which no institution, even were it desired, could for any extended period wipe away.

But what I should like to call your attention to, if kindly permitted, is that modern socialism (the replacing of privately owned capital by socially owned, or functional, capital in the production and distribution of wealth) does not involve a negation of competition. You are, of course, familiar with the general expression of the object of socialism, "To every man according to his deed." If every man is to be rewarded "according to his deed," it is possible only by observing the competitive attainments of each and all.

But it may be said that that is a mere banner declaration, and that we must look to the necessary workings of the socialistic system in order to determine its regard for competition. Admitted.

Now, as I have been able to understand the necessary effect of the "replacement of private by social capital," its only consequence as to competition would be in eliminating such competition as between the units of capital, or dollar and dollar; for example, to such competition as we now see going on between the different bodies of capital—as in parallel railroads, the multitude of stores, etc. In the interest of a sound political economy it is, indeed, desired that this prodigious waste of both capital and individual energy, arising from the anarchy of private capital, should be stopped. That is, the two railroads should not be laid where one might meet the needs of society, etc.; but that the utmost economy of capital should be insisted on in modern society, where the absolute interdependence of our lives makes the present waste (about fifty per cent of our capital and labor) a terrible tax upon all.

While, therefore, competition between bodies of capital when engaged in organized production or distribution is in fact sought to be eliminated because of its terrible expense, this consequence in no way follows as to the vastly more important human constituents of the system. "To every man according to his deed" will mean, with important modifications, the same wage system we now have and the same relative ratio of service with reward. We believe—we think we know—that wages will double or treble under the elimination of rent, interest, and profit, and that other monster with no defenders—waste; that an Edison and many others will make immensely more money, according to their deed, than their poorly equipped moral, mental, or physical competitors. But at the same time that every man's possessions will be limited to his actual wages, it is fairly expected that his influence and power in the government of the world will be similarly limited to the measure of his character, his moral and mental means.

It must be admitted that communism does imply a total negation of competition, according to its maxim, "To every man according to his need, from every man according to his power." But it is too late in the nineteenth century for intelligent men to confound two systems not alike even in their moral aspirations, much less in their economic proposals. Socialism is to-day as much a science as definition and precision of statement can make any character of institutions. It teaches that a system of industry, which is in fact collective in its dependence and interdependence of parts, should be collective in its responsibilities, collective in its powers, and collective in the distribution of its benefits. These ends can be secured only by the same social ownershpof the system of industry which the people of this country have long ago inaugurated as to their government itself. They own that government in theory, at least, body, root, and branch. In fact, their reasoning in behalf of republican institutions is identical with ours in favor of a democratic system of industry. The only difference in the transition from privately owned governments (aristocracies and monarchies) to democratic governments, and that of private capital to social capital, is that the former must antedate. The principle is identical. The object is the same, namely, the amelioration of men from the abuses of irresponsible power. And what prodigies of power the captains of industry have now become! Not a king among the Stuarts or the Hanovers has held such powers. And yet, in the industrial government of the enlightened world to-day, these powers are above every government, imperial or republican, far above the puny power of the masses, and in the hands of stock gamblers who, under the glamour of a rising or falling market, can not govern their own miserable passions.

I do not hope to change any views you may have deliberately reached, even on a subject which calls for frequent modification of the smaller details of its statement. But I hope I may ask you to correct in any way you may find convenient my conclusions if they seem wrong in respect to the relation of socialism with competition. The advance of socialism in the last five years throughout the enlightened world has been so great as to call for careful examination by all thinkers, so that if its teachings are wise and just they may be hastened to power, otherwise that they may be insured their merited fall. Very sincerely yours,

David J. Lewis.
Cumberland, Md., July 15, 1898.